Sun and clouds

It’s amazing how much the seasons can affect your mood. Every year at roughly the same time, the weather gets colder, leaves fall from the trees and the nights get longer. Even though the darkness seems never-ending, eventually it breaks and makes way for the leaves to grow back and the flowers to bloom. Once the flowers are in full bloom, the sun peaks out through the rain, lighting up its surroundings.

Scientific basis of the changing seasons

Though adjustments in weather patterns frequently occur, the seasons, without fail, repeat every single calendar year. In more scientific terms, the changing of the seasons occurs based on the Earth’s rotational patterns, as different hemispheres are exposed to different amounts of sunlight throughout the year. Because the sun is our source of light, energy and heat, the changing intensity and concentration of its rays cause the different seasons. When you think about it scientifically or in the context of mythology, it’s amazing really what a powerful force the seasons are in our lives. They affect the activities we do, the foods we crave, the clothes we wear—and quite often, the moods we are in. When moods are affected primarily by the change of the seasons or specific weather patterns, psychologists classify this as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

The seasons from a mythological perspective

One of the most popular myths surrounding the creation of the four seasons comes from Greek mythology. Persephone was abducted by Hades (god of the underworld) and taken to the underworld. Her mother, Demeter (harvest goddess) was so upset that she stopped the fertility of all vegetation and plants on Earth, causing darkness to set over Upper Earth. To end the world’s misery, Zeus sent Persephone back to Upper Earth. Her mother was so delighted that she restored vegetation and fertility to the world. However, Hades gave Persephone seven pomegranate seeds to eat so that she would be able to spend four months in the underworld each year, causing all natural fertility on Earth to cease and the winter season to be born.

Who is affected by seasonal affective disorder

It’s easy to feel down during the winter months without necessarily being diagnosed with SAD. Though it’s possible to experience symptoms of SAD during the summer or spring, SAD is most prevalent in winter due to the lack of sunlight. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) states that about 2 – 3 percent of the population experiences SAD in their lifetime while 15 percent  experience a milder form of SAD that leaves them mildly depressed, but still allows them to live their lives without major interruption or impact. Those who are the most at risk include adults, women or people living in northern countries (less natural light).

How to cope with SAD

Since SAD is a relatively new condition that has just started being investigated, there are few definitive conclusions regarding treatment and onset. What can we do to combat those feelings of loneliness and helplessness brought on by the weather patterns? A simple solution may be to get out more often to expose yourself to natural light and fresh air. However, that’s not always an easy task, as getting out in cooler weather often feels like a chore, rather than a way of alleviating the feelings of depression as a result of the colder weather. Often, an effective way of dealing with any kind of depressive disorder is to talk with like-minded people about your condition and the feelings you’ve been experiencing. Discussion can be difficult, but often people find common ground when talking about their emotions and experiences, even if they’re not experiencing the same condition.

So, next time you start talking about the weather (a common form of small talk!), instead, ask the person you encounter how they’re feeling. See how they’re coping with the change in temperature, the shorter days and the longer hours of darkness. Maybe you’ll learn something helpful in coping with your condition.

Read more on this topic in The health benefits of sun exposure>>

image: David Niblack